Summer is the perfect time for fool. This cool, creamy dish is better known in Great Britain than the United States but used to be common here as well. Fool refers to cooked fruit mixed with custard or whipped cream. The term was once thought to be derived from the French fouler, meaning to crush (as in berries), but the Oxford English Dictionary dismisses this idea since the earliest fools didn’t contain fruit. The dessert may have been considered simply foolish and insubstantial, somewhat like trifle, its culinary relative. Continue reading
I’ve been craving comfort food lately, what with all the bad news these days, so I delved into Miss Leslie’s Directions for Cookery (1837) in search of a nice old pudding. As I’ve written before, Eliza Leslie was such an elegant writer, her cookbooks are worth reading for her fine prose as well as her recipes.
I was drawn to “A Bread and Butter Pudding,” a simple dish that calls for layers of buttered slices of bread topped with currants and brown sugar, with an egg and milk sauce poured on top. This pudding is British in origin, with published recipes dating to the early 18th century. It seems most closely related to an older pudding from Devon, England, called “white-pot,” which contained dates as well as raisins.
Much is made of Thomas Jefferson’s love for haute cuisine, but when he moved to Washington as president in 1801, he missed the simple muffins made by his cook Peter Hemings back home at Monticello. Well, not that simple — Jefferson’s French chef in Washington could not master them. The president wrote to his daughter Martha, “Pray enable yourself to direct us here how to make muffins in Peter’s method. My cook here cannot succeed at all in them, and they are a great luxury to me.”
Peter Hemings was a slave who became head cook at Monticello in 1796, after Jefferson freed his brother James, the previous chef. (They and their sister Sally were probably the children of Jefferson’s late wife’s father.) James had trained in Paris and taught his brother French cooking techniques, but there was a strong tradition of Anglo-American food at Monticello as well. The muffins that Jefferson loved so much were yeast raised and cooked on the griddle — what we now call English muffins. Continue reading
It’s a coincidence that I made soup meagre during Lent, but my timing was good, since in the 18th century this meatless soup was traditionally made in the latter part of Lent, when springtime greens were just becoming available.
Soup meagre is a very simple dish, thus the name. I assumed “meagre” was a French word, but it’s the British spelling of “meager,” from the Old French maigre. In the oldest recipe I could find (in the Ashfield Recipe Book, 1723*), sorrel, parsley, cabbage, and onions were boiled in water, after which dried bread, cloves, salt, and pepper were added. Then, because this is colonial cooking, half a pound of butter was added. The soup was then boiled for two hours. When the soup was made late enough in spring, peas were included as well. Continue reading
I was so excited to see a small wooden box of salt cod fillets at a supermarket a few weeks ago. I had no idea what to do with it but knew I’d find recipes in 18th-century cookbooks, since cod was ubiquitous in colonial times.
Enormous cod populations were what first drew Europeans to America, according to Mark Kurlansky, author of Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World. As Francis Higginson, the first minister of Salem, Massachusetts, wrote in 1630:
The aboundance of Sea-Fish are almost beyond beleeving, and sure I whould scarce have beleeved it except I had seene it with mine owns eyes. Continue reading
It didn’t come as much of a shock when my doctor told me recently that my cholesterol had skyrocketed. I’ve been buying massive quantities of butter, cream, and eggs ever since I started this blog. (His timing was pretty comical — I happened to be stirring a big pot of cream, sugar, and chocolate when he called.) I decided it was time to seek out some healthier 18th-century recipes.
Salmagundy was a sort of colonial chef’s salad that originated in England in the 17th century, and became popular in America as well. It was served on a large platter with the ingredients presented in layers or geometric patterns, often piled up in a dome shape. Continue reading
I knew that “pound cake” referred to cakes made with a pound of butter, but I didn’t realize until researching 18th-century cakes that this term once referred to the cake’s other ingredients as well — a pound of flour, a pound of sugar, and even a pound of eggs. Here’s Hannah Glasse’s recipe for pound cake from The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747):
Take a pound of butter, beat it in an earthen pan with your hand one way, till it is like a fine thick cream: then have ready twelve eggs, but half the whites; beat them well, and beat them up with the butter, a pound of flour beat in it, a pound of sugar, and a few carraways. Beat it all well together for an hour with your hand, or a great wooden spoon, butter a pan and put it in, and then bake it an hour in a quick oven.
Two things about this recipe really struck me: first, that Glasse recommended beating the butter with one’s hand; second, that she beat the batter for an entire hour! Continue reading
I’m intrigued by the variety of colonial recipes for stuffed foods, some of them with elaborate “forcing” instructions, as the method was called. Forced cucumber, for example, was stuffed with a mixture of ground beef, suet, and spices, then sewn up with a needle and thread and stewed. Odd but true!
Another approach was to stick foods into (rather than inside) other foods. You see this in desserts like quaking pudding, which has almond slices sticking out of it like a porcupine’s quills. (A picture of this can be seen on the home page of Ivan Day’s website Historic Food.) Another example of this spiking technique is asparagus forced in rolls, which I decided to make since asparagus is so plentiful right now. Continue reading